5 Reasons the Next Generation Might be Socially Illiterate

Social Literacy is a person’s ability to interact, maintain and build relationships with other people in real-life social situations.

Notice, how I said “real life social situations.”  The following questions are often brought up to me in our email feedback, teen advice column or at speaking events:

-My kid spends so much time online, will he know how to talk to people offline?

-She is always texting and never talking, I am worried she will only be able to communicate in 140 characters?

-Will my child be able to communicate properly with adults?

All of these boil down to the same question, Will the next generation be socially illiterate?

Why the Next Generation Will be Socially Illiterate

1) Texting

I admit, sometimes it is easier to just text.  Yet, with the rise of texting comes the lack of communication skills, the lack of ability to read verbal cues, and impatience.  The more people rely on texting, the more out of real life they are.  Texting not only changes the way people communicate, but also the way they are bored.  When I am bored I instantly turn to see who I can say “hello” to via text.  When I do not have my phone, the line grows infinitely and my patience to communicate with those physically around me goes down exponentially.

2) There is No IQ vs EQ

[From Self Growth.com]

EQ – is a measure of your emotional intelligence, or your ability to use both your emotions and cognitive skills in your life. Emotional intelligence competencies include but are not limited to empathy, intuition, creativity, flexibility, resilience, coping, stress management, leadership, integrity, authenticity, intrapersonal skills and interpersonal skills.

IQ – a number used to express the apparent relative intelligence of a person that is the ratio multiplied by 100 of the mental age as reported on a standardized test to the chronological age. IQ is the measure of cognitive abilities, such as the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new situations; the skilled use of reason; the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests); mental acuteness; logic and analytical skills.

IQ gets you through school, EQ gets you through life.  There is not enough of an emphasis on both of these kinds of intelligence and lack of EQ leads to social illiteracy down the line.

3) Twitter

I can now summarize a 700 word article in 140 characters.  Great, and not so great.  This is the ADD generation.  Our conversations are much shorter, much more impatient and our capacity to listen and pay attention in a conversation is dwindling.

4) Facebook

I have to constantly remind myself that stalking people on Facebook is not building a relationship. Facebook is great for keeping in touch and maintaining a network, but it can also breed social illiteracy because we forget about real life interactions and the back and forth that Facebook lacks.  (Facebook Chat is a poor substitute).

5) Parents Do Not Talk To, They Talk At

This is a big one for me.  I am finding more and more that parents talk at not to.  Parents need to have conversations with their kids not lectures.  This teaches kids to communicate effectively, verbalize ideas and practice interactions.

Why the Next Generation Will Not be Socially Illiterate

1) One Table Cafeteria

Have you sat in a High School Cafeteria recently during lunch hour? Probably not, but I have and I notice there are many different things going on.  First, of course there are still many tables, but they seem more fluid.  When you watch tables day after day, it is not the same kids sitting at the same tables with the same people.  Groups mesh, get up and talk to each other and switch more often than ever before.  It is cool to be friends with everyone and to be diverse.

2) Floaters Are Cool

Social lines have really blurred.  Floaters, or those people who wander from group to group and have many friends in many different groups are some of the coolest kids in school.

3) Different Intelligences Are Finally Acceptable

Although EQ is downplayed, schools, adults and other youth are finally getting on board with the fact that everyone has different kinds of intelligences. The multiple intelligences that have finally reached the mainstream in education are: Bodily-kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Verbal-linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Naturalistic, Intrapersonal, Visual-spatial and Musical.

4) Facebook, Twitter, Texting and LinkedIn

Yup, I listed them again. While these networks are lessening real life interactions, they are simultaneously giving shy and geographically remote connectors the ability and place to build their networks and get to know people.  If it were not for Facebook I would not have reconnected with many old friends who allowed me to practice socializing in real life.  Texting also makes it easier to meet in real life.

5) College is Hard

The captain of the football team also needs to be president of the chess club.  College is getting really hard to get into and as social lines blur, kids need to be able to adapt to different kinds of skills, people and groups.  This will help them greatly with their social literacy in the workplace and in purely social situations.

I think that there are both pros and cons to the rise of digitalization and it is important to know that social illiteracy is a serious threat to our workplace interactions and future relationships.  The best cure is to talk about it, be open about it and check ourselves to make sure we are developing this skill.

This is part of EmoSocial Intelligence series. If you would like to read more articles on how to read and build nonverbal communication skills in your family or with your child, please visit our EmoSocial Intelligence page for tips and updated research.

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3 Responses to “5 Reasons the Next Generation Might be Socially Illiterate”

  1. Melissa
    October 18, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Social Illiteratacy is definitely going to be a problem in the future, unless we stop relying on facebook and other networking sites. I like how you listed both the pros and the cons of the rise of digilization. After reading this article, I kind of feel refreshed. I see myself as one of those people that go on Facebook for innumerable amounts of hours. While it’s good that I am interacting with people that I have lost connection with, it is also bad because I should go outside and actually interact with them in person! This article is a great wake up call for many teens. I am going to post this article on my facebook because I think more teens should also be exposed to the negativity of digilization.


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